(“Healthy Appetites” is an occasional feature highlighting healthy local dining alternatives.)

A bakery known for its wedding cakes and a display-case smorgasbord of confections, Lansing’s Roma Bakery, in business since 1969, might not jump to mind when contemplating a healthy snack.

Well, it prob ably should. If you can manage to avoid the sweets, cookies, cakes and candies, owners Mena and Sostine Castriciano offer a few surprisingly nutritious options in their little North Cedar Street bakery/ deli/mini-grocery store.

Fresh-made salads top the list of wholesome options at Roma. Salad greens combine with garden tomatoes and various vegetables, along with mozzarella cheese and a choice of homemade dressings.

In the summer, the salads get even better; in a small plot behind his store, Sostine Castriciano nurtures an herb garden. In his salads, as well as other recipes, he mixes in fresh sage, tarragon, parsley, basil and a few other freshly picked herbs. If he’s not annoyed with a rabbit that nibbles on his plants, the softspoken proprietor said he likes to end his day tending the garden. "In the evening, I like to go back there and spend some time," he said, noting a particularly appreciation for lemon basil. "It keeps coming back every year; that’s what I like about it."

Some of those herbs might also make it onto Roma’s vegetarian pizza, made with endive, olives, red onions and a smattering of other vegetables. Spinach pie, made with loads of the healthy leaf and a ricotta cheese mixture, and stuffed pitas deliver fresh greens in a tasty package. Roma also makes, freezes and sells its own sauces for pasta and pizza. "We try to use fresh ingredients whenever we can," Castriciano said. "You can really taste the difference."

But what about the sweets? Surly there is little to say nutritionally when the conversation turns toward dessert. In fact, there’s plenty to chat about.

Start with the cannoli — fried, tubeshaped, traditional Italian pastries stuffed with a cream filling. Diet buster, right? Not so much if you can hold yourself to a small one filled with low-fat ricotta cheese and, if you request it in advance, made with a sugar substitute.

Roma’s homemade gelato is another after dinner delight that seems rather indulgent at first. But compared to ice cream, which typically contains 10-to-20 percent butterfat, gelato primarily employs milk instead of cream and usually holds around 5 percent butterfat.

If fresh fruit is what you crave, Roma delivers with its gorgeous and delicious tulip. On a crepe molded into a small bowl, whipped cream or chocolate mousse forms a bed for slices of strawberries and kiwis, grapes, mandarin oranges and a maraschino cherry. OK, so the whipped cream or mousse pack some calories and saturated fat, but nutritionally speaking, with the collection of fruit on top, you could do a lot worse for dessert.

Mena Castriciano, a diabetic, encourages her husband to try new low- or nosugar recipes, but Sostine Castriciano said most people come to their shop precisely because of how rich his foods are. "It’s hard to keep sugar-free cakes on hand," he said, because the demand for such a cake is so sporadic. But if a request is made for such a confection, Roma will oblige. Later this year, Roma plans to regularly offer sugarfree cannoli made with a sugar substitute.

And if baking at home without sugar gives you nightmares of dinner guests cringing as they bite into a slice of cake, Castriciano is happy to help. "I really like baking, and I like to teach people if they show interest. Why not?" Sostine asked with a smile. "I’m not going to take it with me."

Roma Bakery Deli & Fine Foods, 428 N. Cedar St., Lansing. 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday. (517) 485- 9466.

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